Microsoft unveiled the latest version of its Windows Phone firmware earlier this week, codenamed Mango. The software giant is hoping the upgraded functionality, for both users and app developers, will help it win a bigger share of the smartphone market.
We went to the UK launch of Mango, and checked out the upgraded feature set for both users and app developers.
The release date for Mango is autumn 2011 and it will be free for existing Windows Phone users. New devices will ship when Mango launches. Microsoft announced three new hardware partners at the event – Acer, Fujitsu and ZTE.
Microsoft said there were more than 500 new features in Mango, but the top line feature set will include native access to LinkedIn and Twitter, the Internet Explorer 9 browser recompiled specifically for Mango, along with upgraded Bing search engine options.
There'll be native access to Microsoft's online document storage and file share facility SkyDrive, and the business-focused Office 365 portal allowing users to perform light editing on Microsoft Office documents, not just view them. You'll also be able to pin Office documents direct to the start screen so that you can view or edit when the phone fires up.
There's also integration with Microsoft's Xbox Live service.
According to Microsoft, the overriding aim of the release is to deliver better personal workflow through improved integration between the applications running under Mango. So, the Live Tiles feature will now take real-time updates. Live Tiles are individual apps pinned to the Windows Phone screen that dynamically update themselves. For example, they can list the number of voicemails or text messages that are outstanding, and how many emails have arrived [see picture].
Another example of workflow improvement is the Threads feature, which allows users to switch easily between Facebook chat, text and Windows Live Messenger within the same conversation [see picture].
Groups gives users the facility to group contacts into individual Live Tiles, giving the ability to email whole contact groups – quicker than adding individual email addresses into email headers [see picture].
Mango will add in native access to LinkedIn and Twitter, and the feeds are integrated directly into users' contacts, so that contacts always have the latest tweets and LinkedIn updates associated with them [see picture].
There are also built-in Facebook check-ins (Facebooks locations accessible to users through a single click), and face detection software allowing users to tag photos with the person's name.
Internet Explorer 9 and Bing
With IE9 making its debut on Mango, users should get a better web site display performance.
The picture below shows Microsoft's 'Fish Tank' web site, used for checking browser performance and gives an indication of the graphics performance users can expect.
IE9 has not been re-written for Windows Phones, but is the same code used in the desktop version of the browser re-compiled for Mango devices. This means it should give better graphics performance when viewing web sites incorporating HTML 5 functions, since it will be able to accelerate rendering by accessing the graphics hardware.
The mobile version of Microsoft's Bing search engine is also updated with a couple of new search options. Bing Vision allows users to scan product bar codes (books, groceries etc) and then searches for the items, indicating where items can be bought, together with a selection of prices.
Similarly, Bing Audio can identify music being played and take users to web sites where the music can be downloaded.
Another variant on Bing searches is Local Scout, which provides localised searching, for example, a restaurant search brings up local restaurants with links to their web sites.
Mango Office apps
A big plus for enterprises standardising on the Windows Office productivity suite on the desktop, is the integration of SkyDrive and Office 365 into Mango's upgraded Office hub [see picture].
The updated Office applications on Mango will now allow users to edit, rather than just view Office applications on Windows Phones. OK, you haven't got the full capabilities to edit that you have on the desktop, but adding 'light editing' capabilities should still prove useful for business users.
The emails of Mango users will be protected with digital rights management (DRM), allowing users to set specific permissions on who can forward or print those emails. Personal email accounts and those used for work, can be partitioned separately on Mango devices.
However, Mango still lacks enterprise features such as full Exchange ActiveSync policy support and the ability to encrypt data and files on-device.
Exchange ActiveSync is a Microsoft protocol optimised to let mobile devices get access to corporate information stored on Exchange servers.
A significant factor in smartphone uptake is the availability of decent applications that can run on the phone. To boost application development, Microsoft released a beta of its developer tools for Mango in the same week as the official Mango unveiling.
Developers will now be able to emulate the physical sensors present in Windows Phones – for example, the accelerometer (the sensor that detects phone movement) and check how their code executes through this simulation.
Another addition to the tools shown at the event was a software profiling system. This allows developers to hunt down specific parts of their code which are introducing excessive CPU demands or system memory usage, speeding up software development cycles.
Microsoft says there are more than 500 new features in Mango, including
enterprise features that should appeal to business users, but the main thrust is additional consumer-oriented features.
The new features look good, although a deeper evaluation of Mango is needed before any definitive rating of the new firmware can be given, and it would take a brave person to predict that their inclusion could lead to the unseating of the Apple iPhone as the most popular smartphone.